The Ledes

Monday, May 30, 2016.

USA Today: "Six people died and at least two others were missing Sunday after heavy rains in Texas and Kansas caused severe flooding. In one case near Austin, which received nine inches of rain this week, a vehicle with two people was swept off a flooded roadway. Threats of floods prompted authorities to evacuate thousands of prisoners near Houston, and inmates in another prison on Saturday fought with correctional officers after flooding caused a power outage." -- CW 

AP: "Mexican police have rescued kidnapped soccer player Alan Pulido, who appeared with a bandaged hand at a brief press conference Monday to declare that he was fine. Police and other officials said Pulido, a 25-year-old forward with Greek soccer club Olympiakos, was freed in a security operation Sunday shortly before midnight in the northeast border state of Tamaulipas. Pulido had been seized by gunmen as he left a party Saturday night." -- CW 

The Wires

The Ledes

Sunday, May 29, 2016.

New York Times: "Jane Fawcett, who was a reluctant London debutante when she went to work at Bletchley Park, the home of British code-breaking during World War II, and was credited with identifying a message that led to a great Allied naval success, the sinking of the battleship Bismarck, died on May 21 at her home in Oxford, England. She was 95." -- CW 

New York Times: Hedy "Epstein, a Holocaust survivor who spoke widely about the persecution of the Jews in Germany, and who spent most of her adult life working for a broad range of social justice movements, died on Thursday at her home in St. Louis. She was 91.” Epstein made international headlines when she was arrested in St. Louis in 2014 for protesting Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon's actions in the aftermath of the Michael Brown police killing case. -- CW 

Washington Post: "Cassandra Q. Butts, who was President Obama’s classmate at Harvard Law School and a longtime member of the president’s inner circle who advised him throughout his political career and served as a deputy White House counsel, died May 25 at her home in Washington. She was 50." -- CW 

Public Service Announcement

New York Times (May 22): "An outbreak of a life-threatening illness that has been linked to foods packaged by a processing plant in Washington State has prompted a large-scale voluntary recall of frozen fruits and vegetables marketed under 42 brand names. The scale of the recall reflects the severity of the outbreak of the illness, listeria, and of concerns about how the contaminated food might have “trickled down” into other products, said Brittany Behm, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention." -- CW

Washington Post: "After an epic duel of word masters, an 11-year-old Texan and a 13-year-old New Yorker tied Thursday night [May 26] in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, the third year in a row two victors shared the championship trophy."

Politico's Late Nite Jokes:

... Washington Post: The White House goes Scandinavian for a state dinner for the leaders of Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland.

New York Times: "Morley Safer, the longest-serving correspondent on '60 Minutes' who was known as much for his hard-hitting reporting as the quirky stories he covered, will formally retire this week after a career in broadcast news that lasted more than 50 years, CBS said on Wednesday. Mr. Safer, 84, served on '60 Minutes' for all but two of its 48 seasons. He started scaling back his appearances on the show after he turned 80; his last segment, a profile of the Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, aired in March.... An hourlong program on Sunday, “Morley Safer: A Reporter’s Life,” will, among other highlights, recall an investigation by Mr. Safer that resulted in the freedom of Lenell Geter, a black man who was wrongly convicted and sentenced to life in prison in Texas. In an appearance on the special, Mr. Geter credited Mr. Safer with saving his life."

U.K. Telegraph: "A Canadian schoolboy appears to have discovered a lost Mayan city hidden deep in the jungles of Mexico using a new method of matching stars to the location of temples on earth....In hundreds of years of scholarship, no other scientist had ever found such a correlation.... Studying 22 different constellations, [William Gadoury] found that they matched the location of 117 Mayan cities scattered throughout Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. When he applied his theory to a 23rd constellation, he found that two of the stars already had cities linked to them but that the third star was unmatched. William took to Google Maps and projected that there must be another city hidden deep in the thick jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. The Canadian Space Agency agreed to train its satellite telescopes on the spot and returned with striking pictures: what appears to be an ancient Mayan pyramid and dozens of smaller structures around it."

Politico: "Fox News chief White House correspondent Ed Henry will not be appearing on the channel for the time being, following a report in In Touch Weekly that he cheated on his wife with a Las Vegas hostess. 'We recently became aware of Ed’s personal issues and he’s taking some time off to work things out,' a Fox News spokesperson told Politico in a statement."

New York Times: “'Hamilton,' the groundbreaking hip-hop musical about the nation’s founding fathers, has been nominated for 16 Tony Awards, the most in Broadway history." ...

... Here's the full list of Tony Award nominees.

MIT News: "For the first time, an international team of astronomers from MIT, the University of Liège in Belgium, and elsewhere have detected three planets orbiting an ultracool dwarf star, just 40 light years from Earth. The sizes and temperatures of these worlds are comparable to those of Earth and Venus, and are the best targets found so far for the search for life outside the solar system. The results are published [Monday, May 2] in the journal Nature.... The scientists discovered the planets using TRAPPIST (TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope), a 60-centimeter telescope operated by the University of Liège, based in Chile."

Washington Post's Reliable Source: At an "afterparty hosted by MSNBC following the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner [Saturday, May 1]..., a scuffle broke out between Fox News correspondent Jesse Watters and Ryan Grim, the Huffington Post’s Washington bureau chief.... The two flailed around a bit, upending a table and bumping into several people. 'Punches were definitely thrown,' said one witness. Before any damage was done, several bystanders, including Sean Spicer, communications director at the Republican National Committee, separated the two."

New York Times: "... a nearly 47,000-word journalistic series [by Walt Whitman] called 'Manly Health and Training,' were lost for more than 150 years, buried in an obscure newspaper that survived only in a handful of libraries. The series was uncovered last summer by a graduate student, who came across a fleeting reference to it in a digitized newspaper database and then tracked down the full text on microfilm.Now, Whitman’s self-help-guide-meets-democratic-manifesto is being published online in its entirety by a scholarly journal, in what some experts are calling the biggest new Whitman discovery in decades."

This is for safari:

... Via the New Yorker.

Washington Post: "Late last week, Comcast announced a new program that allows makers of smart TVs and other Internet-based video services to have full access to your cable programming without the need for a set-top box.  Instead, the content will flow directly to the third-party device as an app, including all the channels and program guide. The Xfinity TV Partner Program will initially be offered on new smart TVs from Samsung, as well as Roku streaming boxes.  But the program, built on open Internet-based standards including HTML5, is now open to other device manufacturers to adopt. As video services move from hardware to software, the future of the traditional set-top box looks increasingly grim. With this announcement, Comcast customers may soon eliminate the need for an extra device, potentially saving hundreds of dollars in fees."

BBC: "Dame Judi Dench and David Tennant have joined other stars at a gala marking 400 years since Shakespeare's death. Saturday's Shakespeare Live show in the playwright's birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon included play scene performances, dance and music." Then this:

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The Commentariat -- January 2, 2014

New York Times Editors: "Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, [Edward] Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community." ...

... Guardian Editors: "We hope that calm heads within the present administration are working on a strategy to allow Mr Snowden to return to the US with dignity, and the president to use his executive powers to treat him humanely and in a manner that would be a shining example about the value of whistleblowers and of free speech itself." CW: The Guardian's editors seem to suggest President Obama should pardon Snowden.

CW: E. J. Dionne feels a need to explain to moderates why a resurgence of progressive populism is a good thing. Frankly, I don't see a "resurgence." Elizabeth Warren, for instance, isn't "replacing" Republican Scott Brown. She retook Ted Kennedy's seat after a short, anomalous hiatus, and Kennedy was at least as progressive as Warren. And if "moderates" can't figure out why increasing Social Security benefits beats privatizing the program, then they aren't moderates.

Michael Shear & Ashley Parker of the New York Times: "Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio has signaled he may embrace a series of limited changes to the nation’s immigration laws in the coming months.... Aides to Mr. Boehner said this week that he was committed to what he calls 'step by step' moves to revise immigration laws, which they have declined to specify. " CW: Whoopdeedoo. This is what makes the top headline in the Times?

Adam Liptak of the New York Times: "In temporarily blocking enforcement of the part of President Obama’s health care law that requires many employers to provide health insurance coverage for birth control or face penalties, Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Tuesday opened a second front in Supreme Court challenges to the provision. The initial front opened in November, when the justices agreed to hear a pair of cases from for-profit companies challenging that provision." ...

We defer to the Department of Justice on litigation matters, but remain confident that our final rules strike the balance of providing women with free contraceptive coverage while preventing non-profit religious employers with religious objections to contraceptive coverage from having to contract, arrange, pay, or refer for such coverage. -- Anonymous White House Official

... Sandhya Somashekhar, et al., of the Washington Post: "The Obama administration faced a fresh challenge to its health-care law just as many of its key provisions took effect Wednesday, after an 11th-hour Supreme Court ruling temporarily allowed some Catholic groups not to cover birth control in their employee health plans.... The ruling applied not only to the Little Sisters of the Poor, a nonprofit group that provides services to low-income elderly people, but also to more than 200 other faith-based groups that use insurance provided by the Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust, which adheres to Catholic principles. Most nonprofit groups that challenged the mandate already had received temporary reprieves." ...

... Tara Culp-Ressler of Think Progress: "According to the Department of Health and Human Services, about six million people signed up for Obamacare’s coverage expansion so far. It’s not yet clear exactly how many of those people gained new insurance on January 1; some of them may not have paid their first premium yet, and ongoing technical problems with the state marketplaces may delay some people’s coverage from kicking in immediately. Regardless of the official enrollment numbers, however, New Years Eve marked an important milestone for the health insurance industry."

I’m sure you know, the bishop has total control. -- Anonymous Doctor, describing how medical decisions are made at Roman Catholic hospitals ...

... Lori Freedman in the New Republic on medical "mistakes" directed by Catholic doctrine: "The role that bishops play in healthcare is not a narrow, niche issue. Today in the U.S., one out of six hospital patients are treated in a Catholic facility; four of the 10 largest health systems are Catholic. In many places, the Catholic hospital is the only option for care. While some argue that religious groups should be entitled to follow their own doctrine in their own hospitals, this argument is based on the antiquated notion of faith-based care. Catholic hospitals employ and treat people of all faiths with federal dollars...." Thanks to P. D. Pepe for the link. Also, see today's Comments.

Mario Trujillo of the Hill: "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told The Associated Press in an interview that the Senate will vote Monday on a three-month extension of federal unemployment benefits. Calling the House a 'black hole of legislation,' he offered no prediction on whether the lower chamber would take up the extension as well."

Dan Vergano of the National Geographic: "A decline in ocean cloud cover projected in climate models points to more than 5.6°F (3°C) of global warming coming in this century, on the high end of past global warming estimates, warn climate scientists in a new study."

Lyle Denniston, in a National Constitution Center opinion piece: "The campaign to win marriage rights for same-sex couples that began somewhat hesitantly in Hawaii more than twenty years ago burst forth in 2013 into something close to a constitutional revolution.  The year 2014 very likely will take the issue back to the Supreme Court even as efforts continue to advance the campaign at the state level."

Steve Coll of the New Yorker discusses a new memoir by John Rizzo, a CIA lawyer for more than three decades. Rizzo counters George W. Bush's claim that he was the "decider" on harsh interrogation techniques.

Gail Collins publishes her year-end quiz -- with answers.

Local News

Michael Grynbaum of the New York Times: "Bill de Blasio, whose fiery populism propelled his rise from obscure neighborhood official to the 109th mayor of New York, was sworn into office on Wednesday, pledging that his ambition for a more humane and equal metropolis would remain undimmed." The Times has an interactive page, with video, analyzing de Blasio's inaugural address.

Bryce Covert of Think Progress: "With the new year came the implementation of a new bill: Rhode Island’s paid family leave legislation, passed in July, is now in effect. That means that three states have paid family leave programs in place, as Rhode Island joins California, whose law went into effect in 2004, and New Jersey, which started its program in 2009."

Senate Race

Philip Rucker of the Washington Post: "Daniel K. Inouye, the most revered and powerful figure in Hawaii political history, had a deathbed wish: that Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) would appoint his protegee, Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, to replace him in the Senate. But Abercrombie upended this island state’s political order by tapping the younger Brian Schatz, then the lieutenant governor. Now, a year after Inouye’s death, the former senator’s ghost lingers large over a bitter feud that is dividing Democrats along ethnic and generational lines.... With the outspoken support of Inouye’s widow, Hanabusa is giving up her House seat to challenge Schatz in the 2014 primary."


The Commentariat -- January 1, 2014

Robert Pear & Amy Goodnough of the New York Times: "Millions of Americans will begin receiving health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act on Wednesday after years of contention and a rollout hobbled by delays and technical problems. The decisively new moment in the effort to overhaul the country's health care system will test the law's central premise: that extending coverage to far more Americans will improve the nation's health and help many avoid crippling medical bills." ...

Graphic by the Washington Post.... Sandhya Somashekhar & Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post: "Medicaid embarks on a massive transformation Wednesday -- from a safety-net program for the most vulnerable to a broad-based one that finds itself at the front lines of the continuing political and ideological battle over the Affordable Care Act. Already the nation’s largest health-care program, Medicaid is being expanded and reshaped by the law to cover a wider array of people.... President Obama and many Democratic lawmakers initially resisted the dramatic Medicaid expansion that became part of the Affordable Care Act. But it turned out to be significantly less expensive than providing federal subsidies to lower-income people to buy private health insurance through the state and federal exchanges." ...

... Marc Levy of the AP on Republican states' refusal to accept the Medicaid expansion: "About 5 million people will be without health care [in 2014] that they would have gotten simply if they lived somewhere else in America.... More than one-fifth of them live in Texas alone, Kaiser's analysis found." ...

... ** Michael Moore, in a marvelous New York Times op-ed: "I believe Obamacare's rocky start -- clueless planning, a lousy website, insurance companies raising rates, and the president's telling people they could keep their coverage when, in fact, not all could -- is a result of one fatal flaw: The Affordable Care Act is a pro-insurance-industry plan implemented by a president who knew in his heart that a single-payer, Medicare-for-all model was the true way to go. When right-wing critics 'expose' the fact that President Obama endorsed a single-payer system before 2004, they're actually telling the truth." ...

... AP: "Only hours before the law was to take effect, Supreme Court justice [Sonia Sotomayor] on Tuesday blocked implementation of part of President Barack Obama's health care law that would have forced some religion-affiliated organizations to provide health insurance for employees that includes birth control coverage.... Sotomayor acted on a request from an organization of Catholic nuns in Denver, the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged. Its request for an emergency stay had been denied earlier in the day by a federal appeals court.... Justice Sotomayor is giving the government until Friday morning to respond to her decision." ...

     ... Update: The New York Times story is here.

Susan Stellin of the New York Times: "The government's right to search travelers' electronic devices at the border was upheld in a ruling released by a federal judge on Tuesday, which dismissed a lawsuit challenging this policy.... Even if the plaintiffs did have standing [which he ruled they did not], Judge [Edward] Korman [of the Eastern District of New York] found that they would lose on the merits of the case, ruling that the government does not need reasonable suspicion to examine or confiscate a traveler's laptop, cellphone or other device at the border."

Josh Israel of Think Progress: "Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts, in his annual Year-End Report on the State of the Federal Judiciary, blasted the 2011 Budget Control Act's automatic 'sequestration' federal spending cuts and warned that the cuts to the federal court system;s budget 'pose a genuine threat to public safety.' Roberts, appointed to the Supreme Court in 2005 by President George W. Bush, listed 'adequate funding for the Judiciary' as the 'single most important issue facing the courts' and offered a Dickensian look at the federal judiciary past, present, and future." Chief Justice Roberts' report is here. Thanks to Jeanne B. for the link to Israel's post.

Maureen O'Connor, Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, in an Akron Legal News op-ed: "The U.S. Supreme Court is now one of the last major institutions of Western civilization that has not entered the 21st century technologically. I join with those in a growing movement calling on the justices to change that [and allow cameras in the courtroom during oral arguments].

Jonathan Chait of New York: "The position of Democrats in Washington, backed by a growing mountain of economic research, is that macroeconomic and humanitarian considerations alike both argue for an extension of unemployment benefits. The position of Republicans in Washington is rather strange -- less a moral or economic argument than an expression of indifference.... What they lack is any legislative response to the economic crisis. They just want to get back to normal, and since normality has not arrived, they'd just as soon pretend it has."

The Party of Dodos. Dana Milbank: "As the country overall becomes more racially diverse and more secular, Republicans are resolutely white and increasingly devout. If current trends persist, it will be only a couple of decades before they join the dodo and the saber-toothed tiger."

Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker writes "a short history of metadata collection and the Obama Administration's response to it, as told by an assortment of the most important documents."

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post: "U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and at least one other Education Department official urged New York Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio and his team not to choose Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr as the city's next schools chancellor, according to several people knowledgeable about the selection process. It was an unusual move by the nation's top education official and came in the wake of Starr's vocal criticism of some of the Obama administration's school reform policies." CW: I hope an educator will comment on this. IMHO, Arne Duncan is a preening phony whose "ideas" come right out of Jeb Bush's school-privatization playbook; it's hardly surprising he's a vindictive weasel, too. But I could be wrong.

Local News

Michael Grynbaum of the New York Times: "Bill de Blasio was sworn in as the 109th mayor of New York City early Wednesday, at two minutes past the stroke of midnight. The oath of office was administered by Eric T. Schneiderman, the attorney general of New York, in a brief ceremony inside the front yard of the mayor's rowhouse in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where Mr. de Blasio stood with his family...." CW: President Bill Clinton will administer the oath to de Blasio in a ceremony later today:

... Michael Grynbaum: "The elevation of an assertive, tax-the-rich liberal to the nation’s most prominent municipal office has fanned hopes that hot-button causes like universal prekindergarten and low-wage worker benefits -- versions of which have been passed in smaller cities -- could be aided by the imprimatur of being proved workable in New York." ...

... Benjamin Wallace-Wells in New York: "Often it feels like [New York C]ity really has only two classes: those who believe they can afford the space they need to live in and those who believe they can't. The city has gotten steadily wealthier throughout the past generation, but over the last decade the change has been exceptional.... A program of the scope that [incoming Mayor Bill] De Blasio has begun to sketch out -- a symbolic remaking of the city under the banner of affordability -- is at least as vast an undertaking as Bloomberg's or Giuliani's and arguably more complicated."...

... Andy Borowitz: "As the curtain comes down on the Michael Bloomberg era, the three-term mayor of New York received fulsome praise last night from his most appreciative constituency: the people who can still afford to live there." ...

... CW: Wallace-Wells reminds us of this: "The mayor of New York is the chief executive of a city that is bigger than Israel or Switzerland; the government directly under his control is larger than that of 43 separate states, and the economy under his supervision is roughly the size of Canada's."

Soumya Karlamangla of the Los Angeles Times: "Amid controversy, a gay couple are set to be married on a float Wednesday at the 125th Rose Parade.... The AIDS Healthcare Foundation float, titled 'Living the Dream: Love Is the Best Protection,' was created to celebrate victories in 2013 for the same-sex marriage movement.... Foundation spokesman Ged Kenslea said the organization supports legally sanctioning same-sex marriage because it encourages more stable relationships as well as behavior that will prevent the spread of HIV." ...

... Brooke Adams of the Salt Lake Tribune: "The state of Utah asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday afternoon to put same-sex marriages in Utah on hold while it appeals a lower court ruling in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, saying each marriage that occurs is 'an affront' to the state's and the public's interest 'in being able to define marriage through ordinary democratic channels.'"

Wingers Explode in Outrage, Ctd.

CW: I found this segment mildly offensive:

     ... because I don't think the race of a loved one/family member is remarkable. But I'm looking at it from the perspective of a white person. I get why Harris-Perry highlighted the photo -- she often discusses racial issues on her show. Besides, in a country imbued with racism, can't black people talk about racial issues? Although she made the mistake of introducing the race of Mitt Romney's grandson into a discussion that was supposed to be comedic, the comedians' responses to her request for a photo caption were not offensive -- they made fun of Republicans, not of the family nor of the child. ...

... BUT of course, wingers exploded in outrage. Their mock outrage was offensive, and if not overtly racist, at least white-centric. That is, their assumption is that white people have a degree of free speech rights that black people don't; also, it's okay to verbally attack minorities, but not okay to make fun of white conservatives. Harris-Perry later apologized in a series of tweets & a blogpost. Few on the right are capable of such reflection, self-criticism & public apology. P.S. Tweeting is not the best way to say "I'm sorry."

Political Bloopers -- 2013 Edition

News Ledes

Epoch Times: "Boujemaa Razgui, a flute virtuoso who lives in New York City, says customs officials at JFK Airport destroyed 11 of his instruments. Razgui, a Canadian citizen with a green card employment permit, was arriving from his home in Marrakech, Morocco. He said his baggage was opened by officials who said that his instruments were 'agricultural products' and 'had to be destroyed.'"

AP: "A billowing fire engulfed a three-story building near downtown Minneapolis on Wednesday morning, sending 13 people to hospitals with injuries ranging from burns to trauma associated with falls. Officials said six of those injuries were critical, but no fatalities were reported. An explosion was reported about 8:15 a.m., and within minutes a fire raged through the building...." ...

... Minneapolis Star Tribune: "Fourteen people were injured, six critically, early Wednesday morning after an explosion caused a major fire at a grocery store and apartment building in the bustling Cedar-Riverside neighborhood in south Minneapolis. Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel said they do not know yet if all the residents are accounted for. Some made it out on their own into the subzero temperatures, but others had to be rescued with ladders." Family members say three people are unaccounted for.

AP: "The nation's first recreational pot industry opened in Colorado on Wednesday, kicking off a marijuana experiment that will be watched closely around the world. Already, it is attracting people from across the country."

AFP: "Pope Francis on Wednesday called for greater [justice and] solidarity in the world in his first New Year blessing as pontiff in front of crowds of pilgrims on St Peter's Square."

AP: "A poll suggests majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians support the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, but remain suspicious of the other side. The survey was released Wednesday, hours before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's return to the region. Kerry is trying to forge agreement on the outlines of a peace deal, but gaps remain."

AP: "Iran and Western negotiators on Tuesday reported they were nearing an understanding on the details of implementing the landmark interim nuclear accord reached between Tehran and world powers in November."

AFP: "President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday called Russia's deadliest bombings in three years an 'abomination' as he inspected the site of twin suicide strikes that killed 34 and raised alarm over security at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games. The Kremlin chief laid a thick bouquet of red roses on a heap of stuffed toys and flowers assembled at one of the blast locations and exchanged commiserations with bandaged survivors at a hospital in the shell-shocked southern city of Volgograd."

AFP: "Egypt has accused detained journalists from the Qatari-based Al-Jazeera television network of belonging to a 'terrorist' group, saying they had ties with the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood, the prosecution said Tuesday.... Prosecutors had earlier ordered the detention of three journalists with Al-Jazeera's English channel, including Australian Peter Greste, after their arrest on Sunday in a Cairo hotel."


The Commentariat -- Dec. 31, 2013

Stephen Ohlemacher of the AP: "In an almost annual ritual, Congress is letting a package of 55 popular tax breaks expire at the end of the year, creating uncertainty -- once again -- for millions of individuals and businesses. Lawmakers let these tax breaks lapse almost every year, even though they save businesses and individuals billions of dollars. And almost every year, Congress eventually renews them, retroactively.... 'More cynically, some people say, if you just put it in for a year or two, then that keeps the lobbyists having to come back and wine-and-dine the congressmen to get it extended again, and maybe make some campaign contributions,' said Mark Luscombe, principal tax analyst for CCH, a consulting firm...."

Emily Atkin in Think Progress: "Just one week after Al Jazeera discovered that regulatory responsibility for Alberta, Canada's controversial tar sands would be handed over to a fossil-fuel funded corporation, federal scientists have found that the area's viscous petroleum deposits are surrounded by a nearly 7,500-square-mile ring of mercury.... The findings ... showed that the 7,500 miles contaminated are 'currently impacted by airborne Hg (mercury) emissions originating from oilsands developments.'"

Matthew Wald of the New York Times: "The Federal Aviation Administration will authorize test sites for drone aircraft in upstate New York, New Jersey and at least eight other states, the agency said on Monday, preparing for a time when unmanned aircraft of various shapes and sizes cruise over the landscape." The FAA announcement is here.

Nate Raymond of Reuters: "The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to force the U.S. government to disclose details of its foreign electronic surveillance program and what protections it provides to Americans whose communications are swept up." ...

... Eric Posner, in a Slate piece, sides with Judge William Pauley over Judge Richard Leon re: NSA storage of metadata. CW: Here's a curious argument Posner makes: "The risk of abuse must, for now, be considered remote. If the NSA ever does start blackmailing people, the information will come out because you can't blackmail someone without talking to him." Say what? If the NSA -- or anyone -- blackmails you, the whole idea is that the blackmailer is threatening to make public something you want kept secret. So couldn't we surmise, more logically, that the NSA is blackmailing thousands of people, & those people are keeping quiet lest their secrets be revealed? So, no, if the NSA resorts to blackmail, there's no reason to anticipate that "the information will come out."

Lori Montgomery of the Washington Post: "The plan to trim pension increases for working-age military retirees ... is by far the most controversial provision in a bipartisan budget deal approved by Congress and signed last week by President Obama. The cut is small -- a one-percentage-point reduction in the annual cost-of-living increase -- but it has provoked outrage among veterans who argue that the country is reneging on a solemn pact.... The authors of the budget deal, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.), have already agreed to amend the provision to exempt disabled retirees and survivors of those killed in action, eliminating roughly 10 percent of the $6 billion in savings projected over the next decade. But Ryan has resisted efforts to abandon the pension cut entirely, calling it a 'modest' adjustment to a particularly generous program -- and therefore a more sensible choice than harder decisions that may lie ahead."

Apropos of a discussion in yesterday's Comments, Steve Benen produced this chart which "shows every political figure who made 10 or more Sunday show appearances this year, with red columns representing Republicans and blue columns representing Democrats":

... Adam Weinstein of Gawker: "This chart shows why Sunday talk shows suck.... This is proof that if God exists, He intends for you not to watch TV on Sunday mornings." Weinstein also notes there is only one woman among the 13, no person of color (unless you count Ted Cruz) & the average age of the six old boys who top the list is 65+.

Peter Sullivan of the Hill: "The State Department on Monday said it has no evidence that 'core al Qaeda' behind last year's terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.... ' actually matters whether you say core al Qaeda directed and planned it or they didn't, or it's just some folks that are affiliated with a local group or militia or terrorist organization -- that's what we're looking into right now -- whether they took some inspiration from some sort of similar ideology,' [State Department spokeswoman Marie] Harf said. She pushed back on those making stronger statements." ...

I agree with Mike [Rogers (R-Mich.)] that ... the intelligence indicates that al-Qaeda was involved. But there were also plenty of people and militias that were unaffiliated with al-Qaeda that were involved. I think the intelligence paints a portrait that some came to murder, some people came to destroy property, some merely came to loot, and some came in part motivated by those videos. So it is a complex picture. -- Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), member of the House Intelligence Committee, on Fox "News" Sunday

... You can watch the full "Fox 'News' Sunday" segment here. It's worth hearing Schiff's full remarks on Benghazi, which come early in the segment that was booked to discuss Edward Snowden. ...

... New York Times Editors: "If [Rep. Mike] Rogers has evidence of a direct Al Qaeda role, he should make it public. Otherwise, The Times's investigation, including extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack, stands as the authoritative narrative." CW: The editors do not directly address Schiff's claims (or mention him at all), but he was no doubt talking about the same intelligence Rogers claimed he had seen. Also bear in mind that this is the Times -- likely with justification -- declaring itself the superior authority. If Rogers has the goods, he should accept the editors' challenge. ...

... Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times: "... one particularly hilarious theme in the response to the Times investigation [of the September 11, 2011 Benghazi attack]. According to [Rep. Mike] Rogers [R-Mich.], the article was intended to 'clear the deck' for Mrs. Clinton's presidential campaign. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said today that The Times was 'already laying the groundwork' for a Clinton campaign. Other Republicans referred to Mrs. Clinton as our 'candidate of choice.' Since I will have more to say about which candidate we will endorse in 2016 than any other editor at the Times, let me be clear: We have not chosen Mrs. Clinton. We have not chosen anyone. I can also state definitively that there was no editorial/newsroom conspiracy of any kind, because I knew nothing about the Benghazi article until I read it in the paper on Sunday."

... Dana Milbank: "No doubt Issa will continue to pursue the Benghazi 'scandal.' Others will look deeper into Pajama Boy, or Obama's religion. If they'd devote a similar intensity toward the jobless and the uninsured, they might actually do some good."

Andrew Kramer of the New York Times: "Before he went to prison 10 years ago, Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky was Russia's richest man, worth maybe $15 billion. Set free this month, he could only guess at his vastly depleted, but still formidable, wealth.... As Russian prosecutors began dismantling his company, Mr. Khodorkovsky's lawyers set about safeguarding his main asset, shares in the Yukos oil company. His lawyers did such a good job entangling billions of dollars in offshore vehicles outside of Russia, mostly in the Netherlands, that it is far from clear when or if Mr. Khodorkovsky will ever gain access to what is left of his fortune. The money is now under the control of Dutch foundations, run by boards known by the benign, if Kafkaesque, term of benevolent interveners."

White House Whitewash. CW : If you can't remember what-all President Obama did this year, the White House would like to remind you -- of only the good stuff. There is nary a word about the rollout. The one & only mention of the ACA is a September "white board" video touting the ACA & the Website, which went slightly live October 1. Pathetic, stupid & a little scary.

Right Wing World

Adam & Eve & Pinch Me. Aaron Blake of the Washington Post: "A new Pew Research Center poll shows a widening political gap over theories about how humans came to be, with Republicans growing increasingly skeptical about the idea that humans evolved over time. Over the last four years, the percentage of Democrats who said they believe in evolution has risen by three points, from 64 percent to 67 percent. But the percentage of Republicans who believe in the theory has dropped 11 points, from 54 percent to 43 percent." Pew's report is here.

When Impeachment Isn't Enough. Let us ring out the old year with the wingiest wingnut of all. Travis Gettys of the Raw Story: Fox "News" analyst & retired Major Gen. Paul E. Vallely "has prescribed a regimen of extra-constitutional measures to protect the Constitution from President Barack Obama.... Vallely suggested that Congress pass legislation that would allow conservative activists to undo the results of the last presidential election.... Vallely ruled out impeachment [because], '... if Obama was found guilty and removed from office, Joe Biden would step in, Valerie Jarrett still wields all the power, and likely we get more of the same.' ... He did suggest that a new George Washington could be drawn from the ranks of retired military personnel, which, of course, include Vallely. 'It's fallen upon senior, retired military to take stands against the overreach and tyranny of a corrupt government....'" ...

     ... CW: Please remember, Fox "News" employs this guy. Via Charles Pierce, who is very impressed with Jarett, "the shadowy genius behind the takeover of the Republic." I wonder if it's a coincidence that Vallely seems most worried about people who happen to be black "wielding all the power." I don't suppose he would propose, say, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell to be the "senior, retired military" guy to fill in when Barack, Joe & Valerie are sent packing. While Vallely is contemplating his choice for the next president, may I suggest that the current one call him into the Oval, & with cameras rolling, strip one of Vallely's stars & send him packing.

News Ledes

AFP: "A Bangladesh court Tuesday ordered the arrest of owners of a garment factory where 111 workers were killed last year in the country's worst such fire, after police laid charges. The court in Dhaka issued the warrants for Delwar Hossain and his wife Mahmuda Akter and four others over the blaze that gutted the Tazreen factory where workers stitched clothes for Western retailers including Walmart."

Reuters: "Police detained dozens of people on Tuesday in sweeps through the Russian city of Volgograd after two deadly attacks in less than 24 hours that raised security fears ahead of the Winter Olympics. A man wounded when a bomber set off a blast in the city's railway station on Sunday died overnight, bringing the toll in that attack to 18. Regional governor Sergei Bazhenov said 16 died in a trolleybus bombing on Monday."

AP: "Suspected Jewish vandals set fire to three vehicles in a West Bank village early on Tuesday and sprayed threatening graffiti referring to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry ahead of his expected visit to the region, police said."


The Commentariat -- Dec. 30, 2013

Juliet Eilperin & Sarah Kliff of the Washington Post: "More than 1.1 million Americans signed up for an insurance plan through the federal health-care marketplace during its initial enrollment period, with more than 975,000 enrolling in December alone, the Obama administration announced Sunday.... So far, nearly 2 million Americans -- who were either uninsured or had to change coverage after their existing plans were canceled -- have signed up under the new health-care law on state and federal marketplaces. Roughly 850,000 people have enrolled through the state-run exchanges.... The administration is still far short of the enrollment targets it set just before the system was launched Oct. 1." ...

... Jonathan Cohn of the New Republic writes kind of a status report on the ACA.

Amy Davidson of the New Yorker has a good response to some of Judge William Pauley's credulous acceptance of the government's position in the NSA case he heard. Davidson contrasts Pauley's views with those of Judge Richard Leon -- on some of the same key evidence.

Heather Linebaugh, a former U.S. drone operator, in a Guardian op-ed: "The UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles, a/k/a drones] in the Middle East are used as a weapon, not as protection, and as long as our public remains ignorant to this, this serious threat to the sanctity of human life -- at home and abroad -- will continue."

Paul Krugman on why the fiscal scolds finally lost control of the conversation. My favorite line (mostly because I had never heard the "old saying," "As the old saying goes, they used Reinhart-Rogoff the way a drunk uses a lamppost -- for support, not illumination." Important reminder: "As the Columbia Journalism Review recently noted, many reporters retain the habit of 'treating deficit-cutting as a non-ideological objective while portraying other points of view as partisan or political.'"

The New York Times' top story, by Ben Protess & Jessica Silver-Greenberg is about the U.S. federal investigations into JP Morgan & other top U.S. banks' practice of bribing Chinese officials by hiring their children. This is against U.S. law but SOP in China. CW: It would be amusing if this relatively innocuous practice brought down any of the big banks when mismanagement & their abuse of primarily American investors & customers brought them huge gifts from taxpayers. However, since they're too big to fail, none of them will.

David of Crooks & Liars: "Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) lashed out at House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) on Sunday for spending over a year on what he said was a crusade on a 'fairy tale' after a New York Times report showed that Al-Qaeda had no role in the 2012 Benghazi attacks. Issa defended his attacks on the administration. ...

... Caitlan MacNeal of TPM: "Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) on Sunday disagreed with some of the conclusions in the New York Times investigation on Benghazi, specifically that the attack was fueled in part by an anti-Islamic American video." ...

... MEANWHILE, Issa's friends in Right Wing World, they're writing stories like, "The New York Times Whitewashes Benghazi," & 'The New York Times' Revisionist Account of Benghazi." CW: If you already got your boxed set of "Leftist Conspiracies 2013," don't worry; I'm sure these new ones will come in a post-holiday bonus package. ...

... Driftglass puts his stamp on right-wing reaction to the Times story. ...

There’s just no chance that this was an al-Qaeda attack if, by al-Qaeda, you mean the organization founded by Osama bin Laden. If you're using the term al-Qaeda to describe even a local group of Islamist militants who may dislike democracy or have a grudge against the United States, if you're going to call anybody like that al-Qaeda, then O.K. -- David Kirkpatrick, defending his New York Times story ...

... Benjamin Bell of ABC News: Sociopath & "Firebrand conservative Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, expressed no regrets over his role in this fall's government shutdown [Sunday] in an exclusive interview with ABC's [conservative lackey] Jonathan Karl for 'This Week,' placing the blame for the 16-day closure squarely on the shoulders of Democratic leaders. 'I think it was absolutely a mistake for President Obama and Harry Reid to force a government shutdown,' the freshman senator said.... When reminded by Karl that even Republican House Speaker John Boehner took conservative groups to task for pushing a faulty strategy, Cruz said 'I can't help what other people say.'" ...

... Born in the U.S.A. Todd Gillman of the Dallas Morning News: "The junior senator from Texas is still a Canadian. But he's working on it, eh? Born in Alberta 43 years ago last Sunday, Sen. Ted Cruz was unaware of his dual nationality until The Dallas Morning News explored the issue in August. Since then, he said in a recent interview, 'I have retained counsel that is preparing the paperwork to renounce the citizenship.'"

Emma Fitzsimmons of the New York Times: "Justice Sonia Sotomayor will return to her hometown for New Year's Eve to help lead ... the ball drop in Times Square. She will press the crystal button on Tuesday night to lower the ball and lead the 60-second countdown to midnight, organizers of the event said on Sunday. She will be the first United States Supreme Court justice to do so."

Michael Kirkland, a legal analyst for UPI, looks at the prospects for universal gay marriage. It ain't a slam-dunk.

E. J. Dionne thinks 2013 was not such a bad year for President Obama. ...

Philip Rucker & Krissah Thompson of the Washington Post notice Malia & Sasha Obama have gotten older in five years. Huh. ...

... Michael Shear of the New York Times runs down President Obama's favorite TV shows.

Isaac Chotiner of the New Republic whacks Charles Blow & Frank Bruni for trying so hard to beat each other for the title of New York Times' Worst Columnist. CW: There's a reason I seldom link these guys' stuff: Bruni is off-topic & dull when he's not just dull; Blow is remarkably trite. Thanks to P. D. Pepe for the link.

Local News

Michael Barbaro & Kitty Bennett of the New York Times: "When [New York City Mayor Michael] Bloomberg leaves office at midnight Tuesday, he will bequeath a litany of record-shattering statistics on crime reduction, sidewalk safety and skyline-altering construction. But perhaps the most staggering figure is the amount of his own money that he devoted, day in and day out, to being mayor -- much of it unseen by the public. An analysis by The New York Times shows that Mr. Bloomberg has doled out at least $650 million on a wide variety of perks and bonuses, political campaigns and advocacy work, charitable giving and social causes, not to mention travel and lodging, connected to his time and role as mayor.... In the process, he has entirely upended the financial dynamics surrounding New York's top job. In the past, the city paid its mayor; Mr. Bloomberg paid to be the city's mayor." ...

... CW: Normally, I think our practice of electing royalty -- either because of their money or their political family name -- is absolutely anti-Democratic. However, Bloomberg made a good chunk of his money soaking the rich, so the millions he gave back to the city makes him something of a Robin Hood, albeit one who takes a steep commission. Still, making the city's richest person mayor is a less-than-romantic return to feudalism.

News Ledes

AP: "Secretary of State John Kerry will present Israel and the Palestinians the broad outlines of what a final Mideast peace agreement could look like when he travels to the region this week, the State Department said on Monday."

New York Times: "New York's hold on its status as the country's third most populous state is down to fewer than 100,000 people, according to figures released on Monday by the Census Bureau. And the trend is not in the state's favor, as Florida, which is No. 4, gained residents at three times the pace of the Empire State over a year's span."

Philadelphia Inquirer: "Bail was set Monday at $250,000 for Msgr. William J. Lynn, four days after an appeals court ruled he was wrongly convicted of endangering children. Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina also ruled that Lynn must surrender his passport and be subject to electronic monitoring and weekly reporting while on bail."

New York Times: " A deadly suicide bombing at a crowded railroad station in southern Russia on Sunday, followed by a blast in a trolley bus on Monday in the same city, raised the specter of a new wave of terrorism just six weeks before the Winter Olympics in Sochi." ...

... AP: "A suicide bomber killed 14 people aboard an electric bus in the southern Russian city of Volgograd during the Monday morning rush hour, and authorities believe it was the work of the same group that set off a bomb at the railway station a day earlier. Together more than 30 people were killed in the explosions...."

Guardian: "The Australian icebreaker, Aurora Australis, was thwarted on Monday in its initial attempts to reach the MV Akademik Shokalskiy, the scientific research vessel stuck in sea ice off the coast of Antarctica since Christmas Day. It will now wait for better weather before making a further attempt to cut through the thick pack ice around the Shokalskiy."